The Dark Knight Rises
We're in the dark, but the dark is so familiar. We've thrilled to this musical theme before. We know this city, these characters, they're all real to us. It's like we just stepped out of the prior Christopher Nolan Batman movie, back into the same Gotham City. But this time it's a Gotham without a crime problem, and without a Batman.
Ramifications from The Dark Knight's end -- the hiding of Harvey Dent's corruption and the creation of a false martyr to rally tough prosecution of crime in Gotham -- has led to more criminals in jail and streets safe to walk at night.
But it's safety built on a lie, and there's a man out there who knows how to topple that lie.
The Dark Knight Rises is the perfect bookend for the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. Nolan is steadfast in continuing the characters and city you know. His skill in the selection then slightly twisting the best elements from Batman canon has never been better.
This movie makes no compromise, continuing the evolution of the Batman, Commissioner Gordon, even Alfred Pennyworth, in ways that make sense, and have us sharing their tears or anguishing along with them on the no-win choices they must make.
With this third movie and the series complete, you can see the care Nolan has taken all along, each Batman movie built on the previous entry, still stepping up the action, the reactions, the consequences, and the challenges left on the table.
Again, no compromise here.
The Dark Knight Rises is a smart story, made smarter by the distance you've traveled since the beginning, with relevant echoes of today's class warfare, financial corruption, and global terrorism. Even the action is reasoned. Nothing particularly gratuitous, it is driven by careful logic and planning of the ultimate villain Bane (Tom Hardy). Unlike the Joker, whose chaos was part of his charm, Bane looks like the ultimate thug, but is in truth executing a master plan that ticks steadily towards completion.
In other words, you won't be disappointed, you won't be bored, you'll be happy to have spent your money to see this entry on the big screen. You can stop reading now and go buy your tickets.
Still here? OK, there's a bit more.
The Batman mythos is full of great characters, each flawed and admirable in their own ways, and Nolan knows how to bring them to life and make their personalities drive the story. Jim Gordon's story is nearly as important as Bruce Wayne's, appropriately expanding on the the cop who lied for a more hopeful tomorrow, yet remains disturbed and conflicted by his continuation of the lie about Harvey Dent and the vilification of The Batman.
Gordon is no less heroic for this. Gary Oldman is masterful in his creation of a man ready to take the fall for his failures, and similarly ready to fall in the line of duty protecting Gotham.
Christian Bale gives us a Bruce Wayne as a man of two masks. He's the damaged orphan who has learned to smile on the outside while he rages within. But you learn it's the mask of the bat that allows him to vent that rage, to use it to work on something bigger than himself. With a Gotham at peace, however, he's a recluse still not recovered from his encounter with the Joker. He is without a compass, waiting for a disaster that may not come.
Of course the disaster will come, in the guise of the surprisingly smart Bane. Make no mistake, this Bane is evil, merciless, mean, and strategic, and he wants to break Bruce Wayne for reasons sure to surprise you. The clues are all there, but you are not likely to see it coming.
Bane in the movie trailer did not do justice to Bane in the movie. Nolan's choice for a follow-up to the Joker does not disappoint. Sure, Andre the Giant is slightly more intelligible in The Princess Bride than the mask-muffled Hardy, but some post-production enhancement of his voice left us with only a half-dozen lines that I couldn't quite make out. Make no mistake, Bane is a tribute both to the movie series and the comic book source material.
Much has been said about Gotham as a character itself, in the comic of course, but importantly continuing in both the Tim Burton and Nolan series. Gotham molded Wayne, and Gotham is what he tries to save. And as the Dark Knight rises from his fall, Gotham suffers in ways you've never seen before.
There may actually be a little too much here, close to bringing the almost impossibly epic Batman arc of No Man's Land into the mix, but Nolan makes it work as well as any comic, so you can forgive any misgivings there. At it's darkest it does seem too much for one man to save... unless that man is the Dark Knight.
Serviceable performances are turned in by Anne Hathaway's "Cat Burglar" and Michael Caine's Alfred. Yes, she is never called Catwoman, and in fact there's little actually cat-like in her Cirque du Soleil fighting style. She is fun to watch, but never quite turns in the sass or the heat of the Catwoman from the comics. Alfred is weary of keeping his ward alive, still able to look manly while shedding a tear, and typically gets the last word in banter with Wayne.
I wish there were more for Alfred to do. Caine is capable of much more, but it's already a big movie and hopefully he was well-paid for his performance.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt's John Blake is a rookie cop who got a little pre-movie buzz, but will be much discussed in the future. Like so many, his own damage and drive draws him into the Batman's secret army in several satisfying ways.
Not mentioning Morgan Freeman's Lucius Fox would be heresy. He's another great foil for Wayne, ironically both armorer and Jiminy Cricket to the Dark Knight, and Freeman continues to carry the role with ease.
Okay, so what are the fanboy complaints likely to be?
Right off the bat, so to speak, viewers sit almost an hour without a Dark Knight sighting. Sure the movie is two hours and forty-five minutes long, but that's a lot of scene-setting for a superhero movie.
There's probably a little too much of the villian telling the "defeated" hero his plan. Exposition is essential, but a little repetitive and awkward especially in an otherwise elegant film. Yes, I just called a Batman movie elegant.
The physics of the final threat could have been explained a bit more, instead of given a comic-book reason for working. As it is I'm a little doubtful that the final solution would have really worked. To say more would be spoilers.
I mentioned the lack of a real Catwoman. Selina Kyle is referred to once as a "cat burglar," which doesn't really make me any warmer to her portrayal. And while the average Batman fanboy will follow the trail motivating Bane's master plan from inception to completion, it might be a tad too much for the average theater goer to appreciate. They'll still like it, just not appreciate the master strokes Nolan has painted through the series.
So, with The Dark Knight Rises you get an action story with enough explosions for Michael Bane, er... Bay, but without feeling gratuitous, an involving tale of healing and redemption, a motivational study into what makes the characters excel into superhuman proportions across the board both good and evil.
And you get a fitting end to the series that actually ties the trilogy closer together as well. Nolan has brought depth to the Batman character. Saying good-bye with only three adventures under his bat belt feels far soon for Nolan's story to be done. But the final literal waves from the characters are appropriate and satisfying.
And you know that it doesn't really matter who is behind the mask, the Batman is forever.